Apple has long faced scrutiny for App Store policies that require, among other things, all in-app purchases including subscriptions to be made through Apple’s payment service, allowing the company to take a cut. But now Apple is easing up… a little.
Early next year, Apple says it will update its guidelines, allowing developers of some apps like Netflix and Spotify to provide a link in their app to their websites, where readers can sign up for or manager accounts without Apple taking a percentage of any transactions. The move comes in response to an investigation from the Japan Fair Trade Commission, which Apple says has now closed.
Apple says the change only applies to “reader” apps, which are apps that allow users to access “previously purchased content” or subscriptions for things like books, newspapers, music, or video, but which do not offer in-app digital goods and services for purchase.”
In other words, once the change goes into effect, installing the Netflix app on your phone and running it for the first time will likely give you the option of either logging into an existing account or visiting the Netflix website to sign up for a new account. Right now you only have the option to sign into an existing account, because Netflix removed in-app payment in 2018 as way to avoid having Apple take a percentage of subscription revenue.
As far as concessions go, adding a link for “reader apps” only seems like the bare minimum. It still doesn’t allow developers to accept payments within the app unless they’re using Apple’s billing system (and sharing some of their revenue with Apple).
I wouldn’t be surprised to see some developers that currently offer in-app purchases end them and replace them with a link. And while that might be good news for developers, it’s less clear that it will be good for users – the nice thing about in-app subscriptions is that they allow you to manage all your subscriptions in one place.
Apple says its new rules will take effect globally, and not just in Japan. It’s too soon to say whether this will be enough to fend off other legal and regulatory battles. This week South Korean legislators passed a bill that will ban Apple, Google, and other companies that operate app stores from requiring developers to use their in-app payment services. And in the United States, Epic Games has taken Apple and Google to court over their app store policies.
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman points out that Apple’s new policies do not apply to games, which means the change is unlikely to appease Epic.